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Is noise exemption for church bells a constitutional violation? Judge likely to toss pro se claim

Posted Jan 10, 2014 10:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal magistrate judge says she is likely to recommend dismissal of a lawsuit that claims the chiming of church bells has limited a Rhode Island man’s peaceful enjoyment of his home and damaged his marriage.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan said she will recommend dismissal of the suit without prejudice because the constitutional claim by the pro se litigant is unclear, the Providence Journal reports.

“As I sit here, I don’t know whether you have a claim,” Sullivan said. “If you’ve got an important claim, it would be good to get some legal advice.”

The plaintiff, John Devaney of Narragansett, says the church bells weren’t working when he and his now-ex-wife purchased their home in 1995. The electronic chimes began about six years later, leading Devaney to complain to the town. He says the town responded by citing a town code that exempts churches from noise ordinances.

Devaney’s suit sought to overturn a state law that says government may not restrict the free exercise of religion, according to previous coverage by the Providence Journal. His suit claimed a violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights, and said the noise was a trespass.

According to Devaney, the bells chime more than 700 times a week. He says he can’t afford a lawyer and the American Civil Liberties Union declined to take his case.

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